/Mid-Year Reviews: Strategies for Difficult Conversations

Mid-Year Reviews: Strategies for Difficult Conversations

Mid-year reviews are meant to be informal, two-way conversations on progress. A successful mid-year conversation is one where the employee leaves feeling more engaged, motivated and acknowledged. But what to do when that doesn’t happen?

Conversations around performance are a touchy subject and can result in a wide range of responses. Managers can help reduce negative reactions by using specific examples based on observation rather than interpretation to support feedback given. Managers should be aware of and gauge their own emotions, as well as those of their employees and respond accordingly.

Giving positive reinforcement and constructive feedback using specific examples can help minimize the possibility that an employee will respond to assumptions or misinterpretations. As well, having conversations in person shows commitment and the intention to be of help. It also increases the likelihood that feedback will be received, understood and acted upon.

At all times during the performance feedback conversation:
  • Remain calm and composed;
  • Maintain eye contact;
  • Be aware of your body language—it should be neutral;
  • Don’t be afraid of silence;
  • Respond but do not react;
  • Paraphrase back what the other has said to show you are really listening; and
  • Be curious and ask for specifics using open-ended questions. These typically start with what, how, when, who or where, for example, “How did you reach that conclusion?” or “Tell me more.” Asking open-ended questions is more likely to elicit a two-way dialogue, allowing each other’s perspective to be heard.
If the other appears defensive or makes excuses:
  • Stop and ask yourself if you provided interpretations rather than observations;
  • Allow the other to express themselves. When you respond, do not react emotionally;
  • Ask if there is anything you can do to help diminish their defensiveness; and
  • Consider ending the meeting to allow reflection on the situation.
If they become angry:
  • Avoid arguments;
  • Stop and ask yourself whether you provided interpretations rather than observations;
  • Let the other continue as long as necessary until they can listen to you;
  • Say their name;
  • Acknowledge to the other what you are observing. Name the emotion you see;
  • Identify what is causing the angry reaction and try to understand what is important to them;
  • Ask them what they need to regain their composure;
  • Consider taking a 10-minute break for a walk and then resume; and
  • Bring the discussion and focus back to performance and standards.
If they become unresponsive or withdraw:
  • Ask them what they understood from your comments;
  • Ask whether there is anything else that you should know that could be affecting their performance;
  • Find out what is keeping them from participating;
  • Be patient and friendly;
  • Show concern;
  • Allow silence for a moment; wait for them to talk;
  • Tell them that it is important for you to hear what they have to say;
  • Say that your intent is to help them succeed;
  • State what your intention is and what it is not. Refocus on a common goal; and
  • Propose ending the conversation and meeting again to determine together what might be done to resolve the issues raised.

With files from Treasury Board.